'Reality Week' speakers stress safe driving

Thursday, March 20, 2014 | 11:15 p.m. CDT; updated 12:00 a.m. CDT, Friday, March 21, 2014

COLUMBIA — Keller Colley's voice cracked as he began to recount the night that has haunted him for more than 10 years.

It was Thanksgiving break in 2003, and he was home in Harrisburg for the first time since leaving for college. His parents were gone for the night, so he and some friends decided to throw a party at his house. There was beer — lots of beer — and when Colley returned from an alcohol run to find that many of the party-goers had wandered off, he and three of his friends decided to hop in a pickup truck and head over to Moberly to chase some girls.

All four were drunk, including the driver.

"We came to a T in the road," he said, "and long story short, we zigged when we should have zagged."

The truck veered off the road and rolled several times. Colley and the driver were thrown from the car, while the two backseat passengers remained inside. Colley was rushed to the hospital. He spent 15 days in a coma and suffered from traumatic brain injury.

Only two of the four young drivers survived that November night.

Colley, now a public speaker for ThinkFirst National Injury Foundation, shared his story Thursday night at Hickman High School as part of Columbia Public Schools' Reality Week. The presentation, which focused on preventing distracted driving among young drivers, was one of several presentations held this week.

The presentation touched on more than just drinking and driving. Trent Brooks, a central district traffic engineer at the Missouri Department of Transportation and coordinator for the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety, spoke about using seat belts and driving while distracted. Master Police Officer Scott Wilson of the Columbia Police Department informed parents and teens about Missouri's graduated driver license law.

According to the National Safety Council, about 77 percent of Missourians wear their seat belts while driving. That's 11 percent below the national average.

Furthermore, only 67 percent of Missouri teens wear seat belts, Brooks said.

Wearing a seat belt can reduce the risk for serious crash injuries by about 50 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Wearing a seat belt can mean the difference between life and death," Brooks said, standing before a pair of photos: a crumpled, twisted heap of metal in which the driver was wearing a seat belt and survived; and a car with a busted front headlight in which the driver wasn't wearing a belt and died.

Seat belts can make car accidents less dangerous, but cell phones can make them more prevalent.

In five seconds — the time it takes to glance at a text message — a driver can travel more than 300 feet, according to

"Imaging closing your eyes and traveling the length of a football field," Brooks said. "There's no telling what could happen."

Kathy Nichols brought her nephew, a future driver, to the presentation because she thought it was important for him to know the risks.

"I hope he's aware and turns out to be a good driver," Nichols said.

Supervising editor is Adam Aton.

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